Full list: Agriculture in the News

VT Digger: Public responds to proposed GMO labeling rules

By John Herrick
Full Article

The Vermont Legislature passed the nation’s first GMO labeling law, now state officials must figure out how it will be carried out.

The Attorney General’s Office took comments on proposed rules for labeling genetically engineered ingredients in food products during a public meeting Wednesday in Montpelier, the second in a series of hearings on the rules.

State law requires food manufacturers and retailers to label certain products containing genetically modified ingredients sold after July 1, 2016. Act 120 is being challenged in federal court by industry trade groups, who say the law is unconstitutional and warn it will increase food prices.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell asked the judge to dismiss the case, and released proposed labeling rules this month. His office expects to have a final rule established by July 2015.

There are a variety of genetically engineered ingredients in processed foods, such as corn, sugar beets, canola oil, sugar beets, cotton seed oil and alfalfa grain. Some raw agricultural products are also genetically modified, such as sweet corn, rainbow papaya and summer squash.

The audience Wednesday asked questions specifically about which products must be labeled, who discloses the information and how they do it. Assistant Attorney General Todd Daloz explained how the state is addressing these concerns.

For packaged foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, manufacturers must place a “clear and conspicuous” label anywhere on the packaged. Retailers are responsible to labeling certain unpackaged products. The label must read, “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Daloz said it should be the same type size as the “Serving Size” label on the back of food packages.

“It’s not a warning, it’s not in big letters, but it has to be easily found,” he said.

But for other foods it is less simple. For example, Daloz said the law was silent on unpackaged processed foods, such as bulk, bakery or deli items.

According to the rules, retailers are required to label these products. Daloz pointed to a photo of a bulk bin full of lentils with a label stating “Produced with Genetic Engineering” next to the per pound price as an example. (Lentils, however, are not produced with genetic engineering for sale to consumers, he said.)

If 75 percent of the product’s ingredients by weight are genetically engineered, the label can read, “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” If the manufacturer does not know, the product can be labeled, “May be Produced with Genetic Engineering.” The modifier can only be used if the manufacturer attempts to determine whether their product contains genetically engineered ingredients, Daloz said.

Products containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot use the word “nature,” “natural” or “naturally” on the package or in advertising, according to the proposed rules. The prohibition does not apply to trade, brand or product names or the name of ingredients.

Certain animal products, processing aids, alcoholic beverages, unpackaged taxable restaurant food for immediate consumption, certified organic food, medical food and products containing less than 0.9 percent genetically engineered ingredients are exempt from the labeling requirement, according to the rules.

Manufacturers can rely on the statements from an original manufacturer who swears the product does not contain genetically engineered ingredients, Daloz said.

The rules do not regulate food sales on the Internet, but these sales are not explicitly exempt under the law. Daloz said the labeling requirement applies to Internet sales if a retailer has a physical location in Vermont.

Food grown in Vermont but sold out of state does not have to be labeled, he said.

The attorney general can issue a civil penalty as high as $1,000 per day, per product, under the proposed rules. The consumer protection division will enforce the law.

The Attorney General’s Office will develop a final draft rule, which then must be approved by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.

VPR: Know Your GMOs: 2016 Labeling Law

By Jane Lindholm
Full Article

Last spring the legislature passed a law requiring foods that contain genetically modified organisms – or GMOs- to be labeled. That labeling will go into effect in 2016, and the details of how that labeling would work were left up to the Attorney General to figure out.

The AG’s office has just released an early draft proposal of the GMO labeling rules. And the office is holding meetings around the state this week to give manufacturers, farmers, grocers, and regular citizens a chance to take a sneak peek.

Vermont Edition talks with Assistant Attorney General Todd Daloz, who worked on the new rules, to get a sense of what’s in them.

Under these new rules, two types of labels will appear in grocery stores: one for raw, agricultural commodities (like grocery store produce), and one for packaged, processed food (like juice, canned goods and frozen food). These labels will identify each product as one of the following: “Produced with Genetic Engineering”, “May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering”, or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering”, he said.
“It doesn’t enable producers to just turn a blind eye on their sources, but it also doesn’t require them to exhaustively search back all of the chain to the fields,” he said.

The first type of label, for agricultural commodities, will appear on every sign that identifies the produce and its price, while the label for processed foods will be featured on the side of the package next to the Nutrition Facts label, he said.

“It’s not a warning- it’s nothing like that,” Daloz said. “It’s just information for consumers and people who are interested in knowing this before they make a purchase.”

“Our thought process has been: that’s where people look for information about what’s in the product,” he said. “And this is just factual information about how the product was produced. That seems to be the most logical place.”

So what’s the difference between “Produced with Genetic Engineering”, “May Be Produced” and “Partially Produced”?

“Any label has to say ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering’,” Daloz said. “That said, a producer can modify that phrase by saying ‘Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering’, or ‘May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering’.

In order for their product’s label to say ‘Partially Produced’, a producer would have to show that that product contains no more than 75 percent material produced with genetic engineering. If it’s more than that, the label will read ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering.’

A third option is “May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering.” This type of modifier can only be used when a producer doesn’t actually know if their product contains genetic engineering.

“This might be a circumstance where a small scale producer receives inputs from a lot of different manufacturers, and doesn’t know whether their corn syrup is or is not GE, but there is a pretty good likelihood that it is,” Daloz said. “To be on the safe side, on the labeling, they label it “May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering”.

“It doesn’t enable producers to just turn a blind eye on their sources, but it also doesn’t require them to exhaustively search back all of the chain to the fields,” he said.
“Where the labeling occurs is when someone is offering a food for retail sale in Vermont that contains food produced with genetic engineering, and that means that they know that the food contains GE material,” he said.

In order to prove that a product does not contain GMOs, a producer has two options. They can either go through a verification process through a third party, like The Non-GMO Project, or get a certification or sworn statement from the vendor.

“What our rules propose to implement is creating a system by which those third parties could apply to the Attorney General’s office to be approved to verify for producers out there,” Daloz said.

If a company doesn’t get the verification that its ingredients are GMO free, there’s a second option: getting a certification or sworn statement from the farmer or miller who sold the ingredient in question.

Food that does not contain genetically engineered components does not need a label.


Capital Press: Organic industry confused by GMO vaccines

A lack of clarity about which livestock vaccines are made with genetically modified organisms is creating confusion in the organic industry.

Mateusz Perkowski
Full Article

Genetically modified livestock vaccines are causing consternation in the organic industry, which is having a hard time deciphering which vaccines are made with prohibited methods.

The conundrum of keeping genetically engineered vaccines out of organic production will be considered during the Oct. 28-30 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA on organic policy.

“The challenge is we need a new definition of ‘excluded method,’” said Jean Richardson, a retired environmental studies professor and an NOSB member who is studying the issue.

Vaccines produced with genetic engineering are officially banned from organic livestock production but in reality most certifiers don’t require farmers to document they’re using non-GE vaccines, according to an NOSB document that will be reviewed at the upcoming meeting.

Farmers and certifiers lack an easy way to identify vaccines that have been manufactured with genetic engineering, the document said.

“The problem is you really can’t tell them apart,” said Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog group. “Even though a problem exists, there’s no way to currently enforce the prohibition.”

It’s known that vaccines for certain livestock diseases are made with genetically modified organisms — such as pathogens that have been altered not to cause illness but still trigger an immune response — but the brands are not readily discernible, according to the NOSB document.

The USDA has been reluctant to create a list of vaccines that specifies which ones rely on GMOs because it may inaccurately “imply a deficiency” in such products, the document said.

Vaccines produced with some biotech methods do contain certain words on their labels — subunit, vector and chimera — that could assist organic farmers and certifiers, the NOSB document said.

However, it’s possible that other vaccines not flagged with those terms may also be produced with methods that should be excluded from organic production, said Richardson. That’s because the organic definition of biotechnology doesn’t neatly align with the USDA’s definition.

For example, some vaccine manufacturers use naturally occurring strands of DNA or bacterial viruses to reconfigure the genetic sequences of pathogens, the NOSB found. An NOSB working group that analyzed such methods was unable to agree whether they are excluded from organic production.

The USDA, which regulates organic standards, may ultimately need to set a cut-off date for new technologies, Richardson said. Techniques developed before that date would be considered “traditional breeding” and techniques developer afterward would be excluded from organics.

Another concern is that some information about how livestock vaccines are produced is submitted confidentially to the USDA, the NOSB document said.

Kastel said the USDA needs to determine which vaccines cannot be used on organic livestock but the agency has been hesitant to do so.

Callyn Kircher, farm program manager for the organic certifier Oregon Tilth, said her agency is compiling a database of inputs used by farmers to see what vaccines are common in organic production.

The organization could then try to figure out if any are made with GMOs, she said.

While Oregon Tilth wants to prevent the introduction of genetically engineered vaccines into organic livestock, it’s waiting on guidance from the USDA’s National Organic Program on enforcing the prohibition, Kircher said. “We really don’t have clarity on that yet.”

University at Buffalo News Center: Buffalo, ‘Rust Belt radicals’ put food (policy) back on the table

A new study outlines seven factors that led one of America’s poorest cities to embrace farming, urban chickens and more
By Charlotte Hsu
October 15, 2014
Full Article

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Food, food everywhere. But not a bite to eat.

That was the story in Buffalo leading up to the 21st century: Nestled in a region loaded with farms and orchards, the city nevertheless housed many neighborhoods where fresh fruits, meats and vegetables were in short supply.

So how, in just one decade, did Buffalo become a leader in urban agriculture, with some 60 community gardens coloring its postindustrial landscape?

All this, in one of America’s most impoverished cities.

It’s a story that matters for the Rust Belt — and the rest of the country, says University at Buffalo researcher Samina Raja, lead author of a new case study of the topic in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

“Food is critical to people’s well-being, and to understand how Buffalo has done this is an important lesson to understand for planners and other cities,” Raja says. “We are not Seattle or Madison, Wis., and what makes this case study interesting is that it shows what is possible in a resource-strapped city.”

The new study focuses on the nonprofit Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), which established the first urban farming project in Buffalo.

Buffalo’s narrative is compelling because activists managed to remove food from the shadows of urban planning, giving it a prominent place in efforts to rewrite land use and zoning laws, Raja says. It’s a big shift in thinking: Just a few years back, the city published a comprehensive plan that mentioned food four times in 134 pages, Raja and her co-authors write.

Raja, PhD, is principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab in the UB School of Architecture and Planning.

In the case study, she and other colleagues write that Buffalo’s food movement started outside of City Hall, with “Rust Belt radicals” farming vacant land in the early 2000s. From there, the effort blossomed into a full-on campaign to engage policymakers in amending local laws.

Change came quickly once it started: Milestones included a city ordinance approving urban chicken coops in 2010, and city resolutions supporting community gardens around the same time, according to the study. A draft of Buffalo’s new Green Code, which will govern land use and zoning, encourages urban agriculture on vacant land. Apiaries for beekeeping, greenhouses and farm stands are allowed by the code, which is under review.

Seven Ways to Get Food Noticed In Your City:

The new case study provides a blueprint for activism, listing seven ways the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) and partners put the conversation about food back on the table in Buffalo:

  1. Engaging in “ordinary, incremental, persistent practices”
    Changes in local laws followed years of on-the-ground action by MAP, which grew food, sold it to low-income residents, and raised fish on an urban aquaponics farm.
  2. Building a diverse but unified coalition
    MAP’s “Rust Belt radicals” had limited policy reach on their own, so they partnered with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, government officials, farmers and others to get messages out. All had a shared vision for improving Buffalo’s food system.
  3. Balancing incremental and systemic change
    MAP built urban farms (incremental change), while also pushing lawmakers to amend land use laws (systemic change).
  4. Nurturing communitywide capacity
    MAP trained hundreds of youth to produce, distribute and sell food, and worked with partners to send policymakers to food-related workshops. This created a large body of experts with the know-how to move Buffalo’s food policies forward.
  5. Responding nimbly to windows of opportunity
    MAP and its allies jumped at the chance to advise planners writing the city’s new Green Code. Such windows of opportunity may open rarely; activists must take advantage when they do.
  6. Getting support from local government
    Continual engagement with city planners and councilmembers resulted in an awareness of problems surrounding food, which in turn led to proposals for new laws.
  7. Connecting food to the popular issues of the day
    Economic revitalization is a priority for post-industrial cities across the Rust Belt. Recognizing this, MAP lobbied policymakers on the idea that food — and good food policy — could be vehicles for economic development.

A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported the study. Raja’s co-authors were Diane Picard, executive director of the Massachusetts Avenue Project, UB postdoctoral researcher Solhyon Baek and former UB master’s student Cristina Delgado.

Oregon Live: GMO labeling in Oregon: Measure 92 turns state into ‘battleground for food culture’

By Dana Tims
October 16, 2014
Full Article
Forces for and against mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in Oregon agree on almost nothing.

Proponents say labeling is akin to a Freedom of Information Act when it comes to food choices. How, they ask, can the relatively inexpensive labeling of important food choices be bad for consumers and society?

If there is one slender thread on which both sides concur, it’s that the Nov. 4 fate of Measure 92 could play a pivotal role in how the contentious and politically costly issue plays out elsewhere across the United States.

David Bronner, whose Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps company is a major donor to the Yes on 92 campaign, agreed. “Oregon,” he said, “is absolutely a battle ground for food culture right now.”

If Measure 92 passes, it would make Oregon the first state in the U.S. to pass a labeling measure at the ballot box. The Vermont Legislature approved a labeling bill, set to take effect in 2016, but it’s being challenged in court.

Money for and against the measure is pouring into the state, just as it did for narrowly defeated initiatives in California in 2012 and Washington in 2013. Measure 92 remains on track to go down as the costliest ballot measure in state history.

Measure 92:
A yes vote: Would require food manufacturers to label genetically engineered packaged foods as “Produced With Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced With Genetic Engineering.” Retailers of genetically engineered raw foods would be required to include “Genetically Engineered” on packages, bins and shelves. Suppliers would be required to label shipping containers. Animal feed and food served in restaurants would be exempt.
A no vote: Would retain existing law, which does not require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The opposition comes from large food and grocery manufacturers and chemical companies such as Monsanto. A new, $2.5 million contribution from the company, reported Thursday morning, put the No on 92 Coalition past the $10 million mark in total money raised.

Supporters, drawn from organic food producers, food-safety nonprofits and small independent contributors, have contributed more than $5.4 million to the Yes on 92 campaign.

Ad campaigns from both sides will increasingly fill the airwaves from now until Election Day.

On its face, the issue seems straightforward: Should foods that are genetically engineered – a process of joining genetic material from one or more species of organism to change one or more of its characteristics – be labeled to reflect that?

Opponents, framing their arguments much as they did in California and Washington, call the measure hopelessly flawed. It’s rife with loopholes and exemptions, they say, and riddled with hidden costs that will harm consumers and producers alike in the long run.

Food sold in restaurants, for instance, would not require labeling. Neither would meat or milk from cows, even if they’d been fed GMO corn or alfalfa. The same goes for other meat and dairy. The same goes for other meat and dairy.

George Kimbrell, the senior attorney running the Center for Food Safety‘s Northwest regional office in Portland, co-authored the measure.

More than 60 countries already require GMO labeling, he said. This measure relies heavily on labeling language used elsewhere to decide what’s covered and what’s not, Kimbrell said.

Restaurants are left out, for instance, because federal standards for them are different from those for packaged foods. Meat and dairy products are exempt because labeling laws elsewhere don’t cover them, he said.

As for backroom segregation requirements, Kimbrell added, they are no different from current store practices of keeping foods labeled organic apart from non-organic offerings.

“They know that opposing this measure outright is a loser politically because 90 percent of the American public supports mandatory labeling,” Kimbrell said. “Knowing that, they are left to poke niggling holes in the wording about how poorly written it is. It’s a façade.”

Oregon farmers have their own differences when it comes to GMOs.

Kevin Richards works on his family’s 600-acre farm near Madras, where they raise hybrid carrot seed, wheat, peppermint and herbicide-tolerant GMO alfalfa.

Richards worries that Measure 92 would require him to label the alfalfa, making it harder to market out-of-state. He’s also concerned that the need to keep alfalfa separate from the farm’s non-GMO crops would require purchase of additional transportation equipment.

“And for farmers growing GMOs next to those who don’t, there will be significant costs of maintaining buffers, which will reduce the total amount of available land,” Richards said. “All of the burden is going to fall directly onto smaller farmers.”

Not so, Kimbrell said.

“The only thing a farmer growing GMO crops has to do,” he said, “is tell their supplier they are selling them GMOs so it can be labeled that way.”

In addition, a farmer’s sworn affidavit saying the farm does not intentionally mingle GMO and non-GMO crops is enough to let a supplier then take both to market.

While both sides debate the measure, others note that Oregon has experience with GMOs and related laws.

Steve Fry owns Fry Family Farm, a 90-acre certified organic operation in the Rogue Valley. He lives in Jackson County, where voters last year passed Oregon’s first ban on raising GMO crops. After a bumpy first few months, he said, farmers are figuring out how to live with it.

“Before, if you were growing GMO sugar beets next to my chard seed, that wasn’t being a good neighbor,” Fry said. “Now you have to care.”

Ervin chaired an ad-hoc committee of 11 scientists brought together in 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences to study GMO food safety. The group concluded that genetically modified foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods.

Although he’s trying to remain neutral on Measure 92, Ervin said, “My feeling is that, in general, if you can give consumers information to help them make their decisions, that’s beneficial.”

Given his training as an economist, he questions opposition claims that Measure 92 could drive up food prices by $500 per year for a family of four.

“The estimate I’m most comfortable with puts the figure at around $2 to $3 per year per consumer,” he said, noting a recent Consumers Union report that set the median increase at $2.30 per person annually. “To me, that sounds like it’s in the ballpark.”

Strauss, the Oregon State University forestry scientist who opposes Measure 92, ceded some ground of his own by acknowledging that development of herbicide-resistant crops has led some farmers to vastly increase their use of herbicides. That, in turn, has led to an explosion of “superweeds,” primarily in the Midwest, that are impervious to sprays.

“However,” Strauss said, “GMO crops may have accelerated this, but the real issue is overuse of herbicides, not GMO crops. The whole notion of whether GMOs are safe or not is a ludicrous way to frame the discussion.”

Soon, he said, new GMO foods will be introduced that should make people rethink any blind opposition. They include soybeans containing healthier oils, soy with higher levels of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and potatoes that, when fried at high temperatures, produce half the amount of the carcinogen acrylamide.

When it comes to Measure 92, that level of discussion may take voters too far into the weeds. Some will brush up on the genetics involved, while others will simply insist on having more information about what’s in that package of food they are buying.

“However this is resolved,” said PSU’s Ervin, “it will be very interesting to watch it play out.”

Washington Times: Vermont releases draft GMO labeling rules

October 15, 2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The Vermont attorney general’s office on Wednesday released a draft of the rules it is writing to govern the state’s first-in-the-nation law to require the labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms.

The nine pages of rules lay out everything from definitions of “food” and “genetic engineering” to the required disclosures that will read “Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Three public hearings have been scheduled for next week so people can offer their opinions on the law. Comments can also be submitted by email.

Attorney General William Sorrell said his office was moving to write the rules as quickly as possible so the industry would be prepared before the law takes effect in 2016.

“We’re on track to have this rule in a proposed final form by the end of this year or very, very early next year so that we have gotten it all done by sometime, hopefully, next spring,” Sorrell said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the law in May. Proponents say it’s needed so consumers will know what’s in the food they eat.

The law calls for the labeling of processed GMO foods and for retailers to post signs on displays of unpackaged genetically engineered foods. Violations could be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 per day. Restaurants would be exempt from the requirements.

The public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday in Burlington, Wednesday in Montpelier and Friday in Brattleboro.

Seven Days: Farmers Run Afoul of Labor Laws — and Pay for It

By Katie Flagg
Full Article

On a sunny, blustery afternoon last week, Asa Manning maneuvered a tractor carrying a large round bale of haylage into the barn at Butterworks Farm, a bustling Westfield organic dairy and granary. Upstairs, in the small milk-processing plant, Theresa Peura shuttled quarts of yogurt, made from milk from the farm’s big-eyed Jerseys, from the filling machine onto a cart.

One of these jobs — Manning’s — is considered agricultural labor under the Fair Labor Standards Act, so it is exempt from regulations such as overtime. The other one — Peura’s — isn’t exempt. Failing to draw that distinction has landed some Vermont farms, including Butterworks, in hot water with the U.S. Department of Labor.

DOL has investigated 22 Vermont farms since January 2013, according to its regional hours and wage division. The result? Farmers — many of whom were reportedly surprised to learn that they weren’t in compliance with labor law — faced civil fines and hefty bills for back wages. The bills ranged from a few thousand dollars to six figures, according to Alyson Eastman, an Orwell bookkeeper and accountant who specializes in farm labor.

In the case of Butterworks, a DOL investigation initiated in April 2013 included 30-minute interviews with current and former employees, as well as a detailed examination of payroll records dating back to 2010. It turned out the company owed $11,000 in back wages.

Jack Lazor said he had no idea he was violating the labor law. “It took the wind out of my sails for a while,” said the congenial, bearded owner of Butterworks Farm, an elder statesman in national organic farming circles. He soon learned that if a worker doing approved agricultural tasks spent even an hour or two processing yogurt or milling grain, all of his or her labor in excess of 40 hours a week — regardless of how it was spent — would be subject to overtime pay.

Milking cows? Ag.

Turning that milk into yogurt or kefir? Nope.

Sowing wheat? Ag.

Milling flour in the granary? Nope.

The unexpected bill threw Butterworks for a loop. Overtime just isn’t in the budget, Lazor said. Some of his employees were already making relatively high wages — up to $17 an hour. The time-and-a-half rate for overtime bumped that to more than $25 an hour.

“We’re still farmers,” said Lazor. “We get up, we milk cows, we grow grain. We’ve got to fix our tractors like everyone else.” By adding items like “make yogurt” and “dry black beans” to the to-do list, he said, Butterworks “lost the advantages” other farms enjoy.

Agricultural labor is afforded certain exemptions under the 1938 law that gave Americans the 40-hour work week. Ag workers don’t qualify for overtime pay — and in some cases, farmers are even exempt from paying minimum wage. The exemptions derived from a congressional desire to protect family farms and recognize the variability of seasonal work, said Daniel Cronin, who directs the Manchester, N.H., office of DOL’s wage and hour division.

But when farms begin diversifying — by making value-added products such as yogurt or apple pies, or aggregating products from other farms, for instance — their workers can lose those exemptions.

A number of larger Vermont farms have also reportedly cut their internship programs for fear of running afoul of DOL, according to the same farmer. “Education” is not an acceptable form of compensation.

Lazor isn’t taking any chances. When a young New York farmer offered to work in his granary in exchange for the experience — and valuable livestock feed for her pigs — he wound up paying her minimum wage, just to be safe.

Cronin said the ramped-up enforcement came at the urging of higher-ups at DOL, and that agricultural labor was a matter of interest in particular because the workers — sometimes migrants or seasonal labor — can be a vulnerable population.

“We were encouraged to check agricultural compliance in all areas of our office,” said Cronin. Manpower had been a limiting factor in the past, but with more boots on the ground in the form of additional investigators, Cronin said, “We had more resources to invest, and were reminded to make sure that we were following the operating plan.”

Cronin acknowledged that the violations, in some cases, came as a result of farmers following the advice of local and regional agriculture specialists.

“Farmers are encouraged to become more profitable,” said Cronin, noting that state and regional ag officials promote value-added processing as a way to make farms financially viable. “However, when they change the raw and unmanufactured state of the agricultural commodity,” Cronin said of Vermont farmers, “it can take them outside the definition of agriculture.”

It didn’t help that the messenger, Vermont investigator Kelly Connelley, sometimes showed up unannounced and flashed her badge, according to Lazor and others. With “guns blazing,” as one farmer put it. Others have received letters in advance of DOL’s visits.

Since the investigation of Butterworks, Lazor has made changes. Some employees have been promoted from hourly to salaried positions. Hourly ones are scheduled so they are less likely to work overtime.

But it’s not always possible.

“In farming, you make hay while the sun shines,” said Enid Wonnacott, the executive director at the Northeast Farming Association of Vermont. That means long hours in a short window.

And the nature of work on diversified farms doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into DOL’s definitions of agricultural versus nonagricultural labor. At harvest time, pickers can put in countless hours, without overtime pay, harvesting fruit. But processing that fruit into jam or pies or cider — which happens at the same time of year — doesn’t qualify for the same exemption.

“Nobody works under 12- or 14-hour days in farming in the summer,” said Wonnacott.

According to Wonnacott, the labor crackdown has had unintended consequences: Involving workers in the farm-to-table arc of a food product is suddenly much more complicated. Some larger operations are drawing bright lines between “ag” and “processing” staff — although even that isn’t always possible during the busiest times of year. And for workers who want to learn about both growing food and value-added processing, those distinctions can be frustrating.

But Eastman doesn’t have much sympathy for farmers who complain about the enforcement of the standing law. She points out that other food producers who aren’t also farmers have never enjoyed agricultural exemptions.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” said Eastman.

She urged farmers to simply ask if they have questions about how they should apply often-complicated labor laws to their own farms. So did Cronin, at the regional DOL office, noting that the federal investigators are prohibited from opening an investigation based on a farmer’s query.

As Wonnacott sees it, the message from DOL today is, “We want to work with farmers.” And after a flurry of workshops and forums in recent months, she believes more farmers do understand the rules.

“There’s a whole other conversation of, are these the right regulations?” said Wonnacott. “Are these farmer-centric enough?” And: Do they make sense in light of changing agricultural practices?

Wonnacott, for one, doesn’t think so. She sees little “common sense” in applying the same regulations that govern massive, industrial-scale agriculture to small, diversified farms. But she acknowledges there’s little chance that a handful of small producers in Vermont could influence U.S. ag policy.

“It’s all federal labor law,” agreed Lazor. “There’s no debating it.”

This month marks 35 years since Butterworks Farm acquired its milk-handling license. What started with a family cow and experiments in the Lazors’ kitchen grew, slowly, into a business that today employs 12 workers and does $1.3 million in annual sales. Jack and Anne Lazor, now in their 60s, are exploring the possibility of converting Butterworks to an employee-owned model as they transition out of the business.

But profit margins are tight, which explains the difficulty posed by the overtime issue. The Lazors, for instance, dropped their health insurance in 2008 — it just wasn’t in the budget. When Jack Lazor wound up in the hospital for eight days last year with cancer and kidney failure (a condition now kept in check with in-home dialysis), he faced bills totaling more than $40,000. Customers and fellow farmers banded together to raise the money to cover those costs.

Lazor is vastly healthier today than he was at this time last year. “We live in a beautiful place, surrounded by a lot of nice people,” he said. He tries to focus on the positive. Even so, Lazor, who describes himself wryly as a food radical and rebel, is still smarting after his dustup with DOL.

He’s at work on a second book for Vermont publishing house Chelsea Green after his guide to organic grain growing was released last year. In light of his recent experience, though, Lazor will likely add a cautionary postscript or two to his Letter to a Young Farmer, as the new book is currently titled.

“What it boils down to, you start out by dipping your big toe into the system,” said Lazor. “And then the rules and the regulations start creeping up your leg. Right now I feel like I’m about up to my eyeballs.”

Wall Street Journal: Crackdown on Raw-Milk Machines Steams Fans in Europe

In Europe, Restrictions on Dispensers Have Farmers Frothing; Models That Moo
By Sarah Kent

Full Article & Video

Andrea Verlicchi, an Italian Web designer, used to leave his apartment in the mornings, stroll to a nearby vending machine and fill his recyclable glass bottle with fresh, raw milk.

“The milk is great,” said Mr. Verlicchi, like drinking it “directly from the cow.”

Vending machines that dispense fresh, unpasteurized milk have proliferated in Italy and throughout much of Europe in recent years. The stainless steel mechanical fridges can be found in supermarket parking lots, town squares and on roaming milk-mobiles. According to a “milk map” website designed by Mr. Verlicchi there are currently around 1,300 machines in Italy alone.

But even in Europe, where stinky cheeses, steak tartare and snails are all cheerfully scarfed down, the machines are under siege.

In Italy, regulators have cracked down on sales, suspending or shutting down machines that don’t meet exacting hygiene standards. Those that remain must carry big warning signs in red letters, advising buyers to boil their milk before drinking it.

Elsewhere, self-service milk machines have had it even tougher. In 2011, one popped up in the food hall of luxury London department store Selfridges, briefly sitting alongside designer cupcakes, Iberico hams and other goods favored by food fashionistas.

But the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency soured on the idea and intervened, ultimately launching a lawsuit against Selfridges and Stephen Hook, the dairy farmer behind the machine.

The FSA’s allegation that the farmer and department store breached food hygiene regulations was eventually dropped after both parties agreed to no longer sell via the vending machine. The FSA is currently considering whether to allow the wider use of the machines.

“We stopped selling following the decision by the FSA to undertake research and consultation into the product,” Selfridges said in an emailed statement.

The vending-machine shed at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England. Dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore says he sells around 30 gallons a day, despite his farm’s remote location in the English countryside. ENLARGE
The vending-machine shed at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England. Dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore says he sells around 30 gallons a day, despite his farm’s remote location in the English countryside. Sarah Kent/The Wall Street Journal

The machines are technically allowed in England, but only if they are located on the farm where the milk is produced. England’s producers say that defeats the purpose of the vending machines, which should make the milk more accessible.

“Are we going to…just remain a raw-milk backwater?” said Mr. Hook, who manages Hook & Son, the U.K.’s biggest raw-milk vendor and starred in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival surprise hit, “The Moo Man,” a documentary about him and his favorite cow, Ida.

It is a question being asked in Germany too, where the rules on vending machines are similar to those in England. There, the local chapter of Slow Food—an international organization focused on promoting environmentally friendly and local food—has held raw-milk tastings and campaigned for less severe regulation of raw-milk sales.

Ever since 1864, when Louis Pasteur discovered the process of pasteurization, industrialized countries have flash-heated milk to remove dangerous bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and bovine tuberculosis. The developed world has since carefully controlled the sale of unpasteurized dairy products.

In the U.S., where raw-milk sales are heavily regulated and banned outright in several states, the Food and Drug Administration has on occasion conducted raids on farms in search of illicit dairy products.

Even within the European Union, countries are left to make their own laws on how and if raw milk may be sold. In Scotland, the sale of unpasteurized milk is banned outright because of a serious food poisoning outbreak in the 1980s. In Ireland, raw-milk sales are legal, but the vending machines aren’t.

Proponents say high-tech features make the milk machines safe. Special valves stop the milk from flowing if it gets too warm. More sophisticated machines can send texts to farmers if there is a malfunction or the milk supply is running low. Some models even moo as they dispense milk.

The backlash against mechanical milk dispensers has left some of Europe’s small dairy farmers frothing.

Dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore bemoans the health warning he is required to put on his milk bottles. “I think it’s over-dramatic,” he said, standing outside the shed painted in cow-style black-and-white that houses the raw-milk vending machine on his farm in Suffolk.

Enthusiasts say risks are minimal. Many swear by the microbacteria-rich liquid’s health benefits, claiming raw milk can help cure ailments like asthma and allergies. Some even drink it on doctor’s orders.

And then there is the taste.

Calves at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England, which sells fresh, raw milk in vending machines at the farm ENLARGE
Calves at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England, which sells fresh, raw milk in vending machines at the farm Sarah Kent/The Wall Street Journal

“It is a delicious food that is quite unlike pasteurized milk. It is all we have in the house,” said Gerry Danby, a lawyer focused on supporting artisan and local food producers and former chair of Slow Food U.K.

“I would be very put out, to say the least, if that were to be prohibited,” he added.

But raw-milk fans say that restricting sales would just drive trade underground onto a black market. English farmers already maintain a brisk trade taking advantage of the fact it is legal for them to sell milk in England, which then gets trucked over the border to Scotland.

Raw-milk producer Ian O’Reilly said he sends anywhere between 10 and 40 gallons a week to customers in Scotland though he could send more if he could only find a cheaper courier to take the boxes packed with bottles up to the Highlands. For now, he can’t cater to customers in more remote locations.

Even with all the restrictions hampering sales, some farmers say they still can’t keep up with demand for the organic, unpasteurized milk.

“We have people approaching us all the time saying they want to buy raw milk and the biggest stumbling block is access,” said Mr. Hook.

At Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, Mr. Crickmore’s machine attracts a loyal following. He said he sells around 30 gallons a day, despite his farm’s remote location in the English countryside.

“It is mad, 40 or 50 people a day come to our farm…we have one crazy fool who comes” from a town nearly two-hours’ drive away, said Mr. Crickmore, as he refilled the tank in his vending machine for the second time in one afternoon.

“He’ll come and clear out the vending machine. He’ll take 30 liters [8 gallons] at a time and fill up the back of his car.”

Food Safety News: Carriers are Dropping Liability Coverage for Raw-Milk Producers

Some folks who drink raw milk probably already see themselves as risk-takers, but they may not have thought about the fact that drinking their favorite beverage increasingly means not just taking risk but, for the producers, also “going bare.”

“Going bare” is what the insurance industry calls it when someone opts to go without coverage either because they cannot afford it or because it is just not available. For at least the past two years, reports have popped up around the country about raw-milk producers having difficulty obtaining or continuing insurance coverage.

One example came early in 2012 when the Farm Bureau-owned Rural Mutual Insurance Co. sent out notices about all Wisconsin farm policies it covers specifically advising policyholders that their coverage does not provide for “the sale and/or distribution for offsite consumption of unpasteurized (commonly called raw) milk from cows, sheep and goats for human consumption.”

Retail sales of raw milk are illegal in Wisconsin, but off-site consumption of unpasteurized milk bought on the farm is legal. However, raw milk picked up on the farm has apparently become too risky for insurance coverage in Wisconsin.

What began as decisions by individual carriers who sell policies directly to small farms is now a concern for the big re-insurers such as Kansas City, MO-based Aon Risk Solutions. It is more of an insurance company for insurance carriers and helps to keep the industry solvent by spreading risk.

“Most of the entities we work with are larger commercial operations and are not engaged in the sale of raw milk,” explained Tami Griffin, deputy national director for Aon’s Food Systems, Agribusiness & Beverage Group.

“That said,” she told Food Safety News, “we do work with, and have relationships with, underwriters who are in the business of insuring farms, and I would say that they are increasingly concerned about what farmers are selling to consumers through farmers markets, farm stands, etc.”

“Because of the press that raw milk gets, it is definitely on the radar of insurance companies, and I have heard some carriers are not willing to provide coverage for those selling it,” Griffin added.

Insurance coverage going away is still coming as a surprise for some raw-milk producers. Dog Mountain Farm near Carnation, WA, outside Seattle — a stop on many a foodie’s tour itinerary — recently learned that its carrier was dropping its raw-milk coverage.

Dog Mountain runs a farm-to-table café offering a menu for three meals a day, with patrons being a mix of those food tourists and area residents. They had invested $75,000 in a USDA-certified raw goat milk dairy and then found they had lost their liability insurance.

For a raw-milk producer, going bare carries the same risk as going without automobile or home insurance. It means being responsible for any kind of damages or injuries without being able to share that risk with an insurance company.

It is not uncommon for treatment of a child or senior citizen injured by a pathogen such as E. coli O157:H7 or Listeria to result in direct medical costs exceeding $1 million. It makes the decision to go bare literally a bet-the-farm kind of decision.

While tough to get, raw-milk insurance has not totally gone away. Kendall Turner, a Denver insurance broker, advertises on the web that such coverage is still available.

“Recently, it has become very difficult for dairy farms to obtain liability coverage for the sale of raw milk,” Turner said, adding that he can determine in about 20 minutes if someone qualifies for coverage.

He said that the “biggest challenge for the farmer is to understand is that the insurance company sometimes has more rules than the state … .”

Wisconsin Journal Sentinal: Raw-milk advocates plan appeal to state Supreme Court

By Rick Barrett
Full Article

Raw-milk advocates say they’re filing petitions with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in cases they say are about the rights of consumers and food groups to buy raw, unpasteurized milk direct from a farm.

Two of the petitions were expected to be filed Monday, said plaintiff Gayle Loiselle, a food-rights activist from Dousman. They stem from cases brought by dairy farmers Mark and Petra Zinniker of Walworth County and Grassway Organics Farm Store in New Holstein.

Earlier, a state appeals court ruled against the Zinnikers and Grassway Organics in disputes with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, but the court sidestepped the issue of whether a person has a right to purchase and consume unpasteurized milk.

“The Wisconsin appellate court refused to rule on the question before them regarding the constitutionality of food rights and instead deflected the issue to license violations,” Loiselle said.

A third petition was filed with the state’s highest court earlier this summer involving a case stemming from dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger of Loganville.

“The plaintiffs in all three cases, along with thousands more seeking fresh food directly from the farm, believe they have a fundamental constitutional right to choose what they eat and to choose where that food comes from. We have constitutional rights to conduct business directly between farmers and citizens without government interference and without middlemen like food processors or distributors,” Loiselle said.

With the exception of limited, incidental sales, state law prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk to the public because it may carry bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses.

Raw-milk advocates say they want access to fresh, unprocessed milk that contains beneficial bacteria. They claim the beneficial bacteria are destroyed by pasteurization, in which milk is heated to a high temperature to destroy pathogens.

“This is about basic rights,” Loiselle said. “We believe the Supreme Court has an obligation to the people of Wisconsin to review these three cases on the merits of these constitutional rights now under question.”

In early 2010, a limited liability coalition formed by raw milk supporters, called Nourished by Nature, entered into a contract with the Zinniker farm to purchase a herd of dairy cows. Nourished by Nature agreed to pay a fee to the Zinnikers, and members would then visit the farm and collect raw milk for their own consumption at home.

The Zinnikers’ attorney asked the state whether that arrangement was legal, and the Department of Agriculture responded with a letter saying it was a “sham arrangement” that could result in civil and criminal penalties. The Zinnikers then filed a lawsuit, seeking a court ruling that their operation was indeed legal.

State regulators argued, and the appeals court agreed, that the Zinnikers were breaking the law because they were distributing milk produced on their farm without a milk producer’s license.

Because of that conclusion, it wasn’t necessary to determine whether a person has a right to consume raw milk, the court said.

“Even assuming that the members of Nourished by Nature have a right to consume unpasteurized milk, the Zinnikers do not have a legal right to operate a dairy farm as milk producers without a license,” the court said.

In the Grassway Organics case, the appeals court said the operators of the farm store needed a retail license to sell milk to members of an association who paid a fee to buy from the store. State officials had told Grassway they couldn’t sell or distribute raw milk from the store.

Store owners Wayne and Kay Craig sued, seeking a circuit court ruling that selling raw milk to members of the association was legal.

The appeals court agreed with the circuit court, which determined the Craigs needed a retail food establishment license. The ruling did not address whether the sale of raw milk would be legal if a retail license were obtained.